Monday, September 5, 2011

Nothing Has Changed: Morocco & the "Arab Spring"

Here is a piece from the Levantine Culture Center website about what, if anything, has changed in Morocco during the past few months of hoopla.

Morocco and the Arab Spring
posted September 2, 2011 - 5:51pm by Editor
An inside look at the mood west of Libya and Tunisia
By Youssef Ait Benasser

The other day, a big wig in the Moroccan blogosphere asked in one of his articles: what has changed in our lives? This question reflects the preoccupation of Moroccan society as a whole with the adoption of the new constitution, which passed on July 2nd, 2011 with a 98% approval rate. The referendum woke up the whole country from an era of political quietism, thus raising people's hopes and expectations for a better tomorrow. Two months have passed since then, and for many, it is now time for assessment, following the popular saying "a good dinner frees its scent as of the early afternoon."

An analysis of the current situation in the "Most Beautiful Country in the World" (according to an advertisement for tourism in Morocco) shows that the Kingdom is evolving at two distinct speeds: the pace of official discourse displaying promises of a new era on the one hand, and on the other, another pace that completely contradicts that speech. Since the 2nd of July, repression has not rested; public media outlets remain just as biased and closed to opponents as they were previously; corrupt and abusive officials haven't been ejected from the ruling circles (and some have even gained new prestigious titles); political prisoners have not been freed; and Rachid Nini—the nation's most popular columnist—has been sentenced to jail. Local and international newspapers are still seized and censored each time the King is concerned (most recently, the French weekly Courrier International has been censored because of a caricature of the King ). To partisans of the February 20 Movement, nothing seems to have changed. Some even argue things have worsened as the July referendum's legitimacy untied the Palace's hands.

What change do we want?
The change Moroccans expect consists of putting an end to the system's cronyism and corruption, thus creating an opening for equal opportunities. Tensions in Morocco are indeed mainly due to social, economic, and political "elevators" all being out of service. Parties have become hermetic corporatist groups, the economy is languishing under royalties-owned monopolies and domination, and the education system is no longer a ladder that leads to ascending social status. Getting out of this gridlock is necessary if the system wants to avoid an escalation of tension. Promises of democracy have obviously failed in cleansing the streets of protest. What Moroccans are yearning for are actions that can be felt, and up to now, there has been no political will to implement any.

What change are we getting?
The general elections date has been set for late November. The legislative election is expected to be the first under the rule of the new constitution. It is officially featured as a turning point in Moroccan politics and the start of a new democratic, free phase. However, the handling of the legal and logistical preparation of the event has not changed in comparison with the way things were done in our 2007 legislative elections. Back then, the participation rate was as low as 37%. The parliament that emerged from the results was the least representative of the people's will. As a result of regrouping and shifting alliances, the biggest party in the House is one that didn't even exist at election time. Many legitimately fear that things will not differ in November. The almighty Minister of Interior Affairs, appointed by the King himself, is using redistricting as a tool for imposing a pre-conceived political map. His ministry is indeed the only institution in charge of elections and it undergoes no real accountibility as it is completely dependent on the Royal Palace.Moroccans might not see much change in their lives as political beings, but they will witness changes on the socio-economic level. Government's generous social policy has more than exceeded the country's financial budget. Decrees related to integration of unemployed degree-holders into public service, or automatic and general raises in salaries, have been able to keep the middle class out of the streets for now. But it will not be long before it generates the opposite effects as sovereign debt drastically raises leading to a double-dip recession.

Either there is a change or there is not.

Aware of this complex situation that Morocco is facing today, the February 20th Movement has raised the cogent questions, and is therefore a legitimate counter movement. It is now up to the system to provide the appropriate answers. And with a social time bomb ready to explode, the system may not have that much time.

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